Immigration and Entrepreneurship

A political hot potato for years now, immigration reform remains controversial, but some leading entrepreneurial thinkers at this week’s South by Southwest V2V conference in Las Vegas say it’s imperative to the long-term health of the U.S. economy.

So often, the debate gets bogged down into discussions of border security and the potential for a path to citizenship. However, Steve Case, the former CEO of AOL who now sits on the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and U.S. Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nevada) came together on Monday to discuss what politicians on both sides of the aisle can agree upon—the need to crystallize a system that will bring entrepreneurs and tech talent to the United States.

The immigration discussion led off the inaugural SXSW V2V conference in Las Vegas. An extension of the long-running Austin, Texas-based brand, V2V is geared entirely toward entrepreneurs and innovators.

“It’s fitting that the first session of South-By here in Vegas is on immigration, because I think it is the most important issue facing startups, and frankly I think the most important issue facing the nation,” Case said in his comments before the opening panel discussion. Case went on to issue a keynote address on Tuesday. “I think some people look at immigration in the context of sort of a problem we need to solve. I view it more as an opportunity we need to seize if we’re going to remain the most entrepreneurial nation in the world. The only way we’re going to do that is we’re going to win the global battle for talent, and we can’t do that unless we have a smarter immigration policy.”

Both Case and Rep. Heck expressed hope that a comprehensive immigration reform bill could be signed into law by the end of the year. The bill on the table, which was passed by the Senate in June, would raise the cap on H-1B visas and introduce new visa programs to protect entrepreneurial immigrants.

“Every time we turn away another entrepreneur, we forsake the innovation jobs and the value that newly formed company has the opportunity to create elsewhere,” Heck said. “Rest assured, if we don’t let them create it here in the United States, they’re going to create it somewhere else.”

Joining Heck on the conference-opening panel were three immigrant business owners. “Doing a startup is hard enough without having to worry about whether you can build your team, about whether you can live in the U.S.,” said Scott Allison, a tech CEO from the U.K.

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